I find myself being forced to confront this terribly uncomfortable question once again. I've had to do so many times in the past, in the context of South Africa's civil unrest between 1976 and 1994, when most people of faith would 'talk the talk' by protesting the evils of the situation, and preaching, and so on, but would not 'walk the walk' by going into danger themselves, to help those who were living - and dying - in the daily reality of the horrific violence sweeping through that country. Those few of us who did get actively involved paid a heavy price, about which I've written on a few occasions. (See, for example, here and here.)
South Africa wasn't the only country where such tragedies happened, and wasn't the only crisis to evoke such questions. The Rwanda genocide of 1994 . . . the massacre of Christians in East Timor in 1991 . . . the deaths of approximately one and a half million Christians during the Second Sudanese Civil War . . . the list goes on and on and on.
Every such tragedy seems to attract talk from other Christians around the world, and perhaps a few collections to help those in need, but not much in the way of action. That's left to a few charity organizations, religious orders and individual workers who are prepared to risk their lives and get their hands dirty 'at the coalface'. If one applies the Biblical test of 'by their fruits you will know them' (Matthew 7:15-20), there's not much 'fruit' evident in the reaction of most Christians to such situations . . . so are they truly Christians at all?
The Christian Church is facing a new crisis in Iraq. It seems that Al Qaeda in Iraq now regards Christians as legitimate targets, and is out to kill as many as possible. On November 1st an attack on a Catholic church killed over 50 people. (Some of the attackers claimed that their actions were in revenge for the proposal by a fundamentalist Christian pastor in Florida to burn copies of the Koran, Islam's sacred book, even though he did not put his plans into effect.) Soon afterwards, six Christian neighborhoods in Baghdad were hit by bomb and mortar attacks, killing several people and injuring scores more. One Iraqi Christian leader is now openly calling for his people to abandon that country, as the danger to their lives is too great to be borne.
The Pope has spoken out against this latest wave of violence, and I know several Catholic mission organizations and charities are involved in trying to help the victims. So are several Protestant mission organizations and groups . . . but most of the individual churches and denominations in most nominally Christian countries seem to be doing little or nothing to help. It's the same old story. Those suffering are far away, and we have no real understanding of their plight, and it's simply too much trouble for most people to try to obtain such an understanding. "Out of sight, out of mind" just about sums it up.
May I appeal to Christian readers of this blog to become more actively involved in this unfolding tragedy? There are several things you can do.
- Donate to charities and organizations active in the area. You can find out who they are with a little online research.
- Write to your Congressional representative and your Senators, asking them to support US efforts to aid Iraqi Christians (including offering asylum to those who request it on the grounds of religious persecution). For readers in other countries, please do the same with your elected representatives.
- Ask your local church community to do the above as well, and organize relief efforts of their own, perhaps in co-operation with an international mission group or charity.
- Pray each day for those who are suffering and dying for and because of their faith.
- Try to educate fanatical, fundamentalist Christians that their diatribes against Islam, and their proposals that denigrate the foundations of that faith, can and do cause irreparable harm to Christians in Muslim countries, up to and including their death. Implore them to think before they speak or act, so that they may not have the blood of innocent Christians on their hands. (If they're so Biblically dogmatic, I recommend James 3:5-10 for their consideration. A bit more blessing, and a bit less condemnation of others, would be very helpful.)
These are relatively small, painless actions . . . but if enough of us do them, they can make a big difference. How about it?